Dallas Taylor, the Creative Director of Defacto Sound and Host of the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, delves into the world of sound design in the most meticulous way. From designing and mixing sound for big network projects such as HBO and Discovery, Dallas and his team are known for precisely crafting the marvelous influence of sound for award-winning films among others.
At what time of the day do you long for absolute silence?
Well, absolute silence is pretty terrifying. It’s only achieved in specifically built rooms called anechoic chambers. These rooms primary role is to test speaker components and tiny vibrations. Humans aren’t designed to experience absolute silence because it’s such an unnatural phenomenon. A human alone in an anechoic chamber would hear their internal mechanisms - organ movement, blood pumping, and digestion. None of us really wants to hear that. However, I long for the sound of nature often. It’s in our biology to want that. The sound of wind, birds and water are relaxing.
Can you describe early life experiences where sound played an important role?
I wasn’t all that great in school. I lived in a very poor area with a lot of drug and alcohol abuse around me. My grades were ok, but I didn’t excel at any of the basics like maths, science or reading. Around 6th grade, I joined the band program as a trumpet player. I excelled at it. I don’t know why, but it just clicked for me. The trumpet kept me out of trouble in high school and landed me a full scholarship to college - something I wouldn’t have been able to afford. So, I was really fortunate. Hindsight being 20/20, I now realize how much my teachers throughout my high school and college years went out of their way for my success. I didn’t realize it then, but it’s clear now.
Toward the end of college, I started to struggle with extreme performance anxiety which, unfortunately, ended my trumpet playing. However, in that difficult time, I found out just how much I loved sound.
What was your biggest fear in starting Defacto Sound?
Survival. Even now, 10 years later, it’s a terrifying thought that people could just stop working with me. I left a job at the Discovery Channel that was excellent. I did that to start something that was incredibly risky. However, I have learned over the years that the risk is what’s helped me stay alive and not drone on into monotony. Sure, there are difficult times, but thankfully the highs have outweighed the lows.
How would you describe your personal style of sound designing if we leave out all external influences?
Super crisp and clean. My goal is always clarity and focus, even if it’s taking risks with sound. I want sounds to speak and have a clear purpose. If a sound doesn’t 'speak' in a final mix, I’ll cut it to let other sounds speak. Underdesign is easy. Overdesign is slightly less easy, but overdesigning, then pulling away sounds that down work is the sweet spot of sound design. That and finding the 'right' sounds to begin with.
How does this add up for your everyday lifestyle?
I suppose I like things that are very purposeful. For example, most of the time I just wear a black shirt. I have like 25 solid black shirts. It makes my life easy. I also like food that isn’t underwhelming, but isn't overdone either. For example, for years I thought that more toppings on a pizza makes it better. Come to find out, a cheese pizza is better than any meatso supreme. Raw ingredients and the craft of putting them together matter!
Do you have creative advice for people who are asking for basic sound design principles to follow? Any book recommendations?
My favourite sound designer centric places to look is Designing Sound, Sound works Collection, and forums. Also, getting a rig and just starting to work is a great way to get moving. There’s nothing better than hands-on training when it comes to sound design. Think of it like playing the violin - you can read about the violin all day long, but you don’t get better unless you practice. Same goes for sound design. The computer and applications are your instrument. Practice them.
Finally, could you pass some rare gems that you feel would help other sound designers improve their workflow?
Stop thinking so much about your tools. Yes, they’re super cool and you need to master them, but they’re simply tools. Michelangelo probably didn’t consciously think about his paint brushes when he painted the Sistine Chapel, he just created, and the tools were a way for the ideas to flow. If you practice enough, you’ll be able to stop thinking about the tools. It's when the tools are an after-thought, you can really start crafting and creating.